What to Do When your Teen Wants More Privileges

talking-with-momAs teens begin their summer break from school, many are eager for more freedom. They want to stay up later, have less supervision, spend more time with friends, enjoy later curfews, and have more independence. It can be hard for us, as parents, to know if our teen is making a reasonable request, if the privileges are appropriate for our teen’s maturity level, or if we will be able to maintain safety and discipline. We have the perfect answer for you: behavior contracts!

What is a behavior contract?

A behavior contract is one of the best discipline tools to use with teenagers. Simply stated, it is a written agreement between a teen and a parent that sets clear rules and expectations. It should also outline what your teen will earn if he/she follows the contract and what consequences will occur if he/she breaks the contract.

A written contract is much more valuable than a verbal agreement because there may be questions later about the terms. Your teen might remember one thing and you another resulting in a fight. If the contract is written and signed, then there is no question about the rules or the consequences for breaking them. By agreeing to the terms, there is less tension within the family.

What are the benefits of using a behavior contract?

There are numerous benefits to establishing a behavior contract with your teen:

  • Behavior contracts help parents to be consistent with rules and discipline.
  • Teens are more likely to be motivated to follow the rules because they had input into creating the agreement. A teen’s input helps parents to better understand their teen’s behavior and priorities.
  • Parents can use behavior contracts to talk candidly with their teens about important subjects, such as drugs and alcohol, dating, and driving. This process encourages better communication.
  • Well-defined expectations can help teens overcome unhealthy behavior. A contract can give a teen a plan of action for meeting goals and earning a desired privilege.
  • A behavior contract can greatly reduce arguments, while also increasing a teen’s sense of responsibility. There is no debating rules and punishments when they are clearly laid out on paper. A teen will quickly recognize that they are ultimately responsible for either earning or losing a privilege, which is an excellent life lesson.


How should I use a behavior contract?

Behavior contracts can cover a wide range of topics and issues, such as:

  • School performance
  • Treatment of family members
  • Chores
  • Curfews
  • Dating
  • Cell phone use
  • Alcohol or drug use

Contracts can be used to address any issues that are bothering you or that you feel may become a problem. They change the family’s dynamic from reacting to bad behavior to encouraging good behavior.

You can use a behavior contract in several ways:

  • House rules. Create a contract that outlines all of the privileges, rules, and consequences you currently expect from your teen. You can review it with your teen every six months to agree whether it needs to be revised.
  • Earn a privilege. Create a contract that outlines how your teen can earn a new privilege that they want, or how they can show you they are mature enough for the privilege. For example, if your teen wants a later curfew, you may require they complete a certain number of chores on time, without nagging, for two weeks.
  • Keep a privilege. Create a contract whenever your teen gains a new privilege, such as when your teen gets their first cell phone or obtains their driver’s license. Use the contract to establish safety guidelines and behavior expectations that you feel are necessary for your teen to keep the new privilege.


How do I create a behavior contract?

Behavior contracts need several components:

  • A clear description of the good behavior expected from the teen
  • What the positive consequences of the behavior will be
  • What the negative consequences of not performing the specific behavior will be
  • What the adults involved are expected to do
  • A clear plan to help the teen achieve the good behavior
  • A place for the signatures of the teen and adults involved


Consequences for breaking the conditions of the behavior contract must be clearly stated in your contract, and they should be appropriate to the situation. Parents must be consistent in enforcing consequences, or behavior contracts are ineffective. Examples of consequences are:

  • Loss of dating privileges
  • No free time with friends
  • Loss of cell phone privileges
  • No television, video games, or computer
  • Loss of allowance
  • Loss of driving privileges
  • Writing an apology
  • Writing a report about the rule that was broken and why it is important



Final Thoughts…

Probably the most critical component to a contract’s success is the parents follow-through with the terms of the contract. If your teen breaks a rule or does not follow the required behavior, you absolutely must enforce the contract’s prescribed consequence. Many parents feel “mean” and want to offer a second chance, but unless your contract states that your teen gets one warning, then you are violating the contract and teaching your teen that they can, too. It’s an important life lesson to learn that, as an adult, there usually aren’t second chances to break a contract. You can even use the opportunity to discuss the importance of following through with various contracts in life, such as a mortgage contract or a rental contract. Explain possible consequences of breaking such contracts.

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